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Cloud-based telephony startup Exotel aims to tap SME demand; signs up 150 customers

When expert hacker Shivakumar Ganesan set up a C2C marketplace venture Roopit, he used to get a lot of telephone calls, many of which he missed. He later realised that he could have turned each call to a valid customer if he had handled the calls properly. This led him to develop a solution that never lets him miss a call, but also help him track them.

Named Exotel, the product offers cloud-based business phone systems to SMEs, which helps companies manage customers via inbound voice calls and SMSes without getting into the hassles of setting up a full-fledged call centre system.

The company, Exotel Techcom Pvt Ltd (erstwhile Roopit), was set up in 2011 by Ganesan, a BITS graduate and Ishwar Sridharan, Siddharth Ramesh and Vijay Sharma.

"Exotel is basically a business phone system that allows businesses to receive and make calls and SMSes without having to invest in any physical infrastructure like a PBX (private branch exchange) or PRI (primary rate interface) setup," said Vijay Sharma. "Companies can build marketing tools, sales tools and support tools on top of Exotel and can track all of this via reporting, recording, interactive voice response and many features."

The Bangalore-based SaaS startup also adds the intelligence of the Internet with telephony to provide all relevant data needed to run a business over voice and SMS. The company claims it has already signed up 150-plus clients in less than two years who include Flipkart.com, Titan Watches, CarWale.com, Practo.com, The Godrej Group, Interviewstreet.com, and so on.

The pricing depends on the number of calls and SMSes a customer makes or receives. "We provide phone numbers to our customer and the rental starts at Rs 250 a month. Incoming calls start at 10 paise per minute and for outgoing call it is 20 paise. We charge 6 paise per incoming SMS and the charge will go upto 35 paise depending on the type of the text message. For every additional user, the company charges Rs 250 a month."

For instance, if a customer receives 100 incoming calls per day, it pays anywhere between Rs 900 and 3,600. If it is 100 outgoing calls, the charge can go from Rs 1,800 to Rs 7,200 a month. If a company gets 100 incoming and the same number of outgoing calls, the payment can go upto Rs 10,800. Exotel also offers a few features such as automation (such as IVR and voice mails etc), smart call connections (such as call queuing and call recording etc) for a limited period.

The company said that the Indian cloud telephony market offers it massive opportunities. "There will not be a single business in the country without a telephone connection to interact with its end consumers. Phone numbers are used everywhere, and the size is as big as the SME/MSME market size in India, which includes doctors, technology companies, government projects and so on. This gives us huge opportunities," Sharma added.

Exotel, which secured Rs 2.5 crore ($0.5 million) from Mumbai Angels and Blume Ventures in March this year, is already operating in five circles in India and is now looking to consolidate in these markets. "We used the money to expand our team and innovate on product. We have enough liquidity now."

With a 20-people strong team, Exotel is focusing only on India, at least for now. "We have not immediately thought of it (overseas expansion) yet. There are some strategies and markets at the back of our mind, but as of now our focus is only India," noted Sharma.

About the challenges in the cloud telephony market, Sharma said, "We typically face challenges every other SaaS startup does in this space. Market awareness and adoption of new technology among enterprises are the major ones."

Currently present in five circles in India, Exotel recently launched a new Android application that allows customers to make transactional/promotional calls or SMS from their phone while on the move. It has also introduced another facility where clients can create an address book that allows them to store their customers' phone numbers with a name, company and email ID.

"We have also made the product pre-paid, enabling customers to use Exotel on a credit basis, like a top-up recharge that starts Rs 250. The user can pay on a per-call basis and recharge it appropriately. We hope the new pricing would allow a lot more people to avail of our product.

Exotel is competing with other cloud-telephony companies like Ozonetel and Knowlarity. A leading player in this segment, Gurgaon-based Knowlarity claims that around 40,000 businesses have used its product although it did not specify how many paying clients it has. Knowlarity's clients include Snapdeal.com, Idea Cellular Ltd, Yatra.com, Yes Bank, MakeMyTrip.com, PepsiCo and so on. Early this year, Knowlarity raised $6.6 Million from Sequoia Capital.

Hyderabad –based Ozontel, which has offices in Bangalore and New Delhi, is another startup in this space and claims to have won customers like Wipro, IndiaMart.com, and StayZilla.com.

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal)

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